A lot of titles sell themselves on the premise that they’re ‘easy to pickup, difficult to master’. I’ve never been a fan of the first part, because taking the time to learn something uniquely in-depth is rewarding in more ways than one.
I’ve always enjoyed the idea of battlefield strategics. I once considered training to become an Officer, but the idea of playing chess on an open plain was always an intimidating one. There’s always someone smarter than you, I thought, and it all seems so complex. That complexity is an intimidating one, and it’s difficult to over-come. Strategy in an RTS, or in real life for that matter, is about knowing your units, knowing your enemies units, knowing what they’re capable of, and picking the perfect moment to make your move — be it an offensive or counter-offensive.
Being overwhelmed is an inherently negative sensation; the idea that you’re not in control is completely contrary to the principles of strategy. You need to be in control, but in control of what? That’s where ‘difficult to pick up’ comes in. When first approaching any battlefield, it’s tempting to throw your largest and most powerful units at the enemy in the vain hope that they’ve got nothing stronger. In Wargame: European Escalation this was generally seen in the flocks of helicopters you’d run into at the start of the map. A couple of mechanized AA units or AA infantry can take out an entire fleet of helicopters, and therein lies the required knowledge for decent decision making.
Knowledge of the games [now] 1400 units is almost explicitly required.
Unlike in chess, Wargame’s rules can be manipulated. You cannot manipulate the rules of chess. You can’t send a knight on a suicide mission through a bunch of pawns in hopes that it takes out the queen. That’s not how it works. That’s why battlefield strategy is somewhat more exciting than the relatively drier logic based games available, but it requires no less logic. Success in Wargame is built upon some fascinating principles: the idea that spreading yourself thin with the right units is more effective than clumping everything together into one mega-battalion, and that knowledge of the games [now] 1400 units is almost explicitly required.
eSports RTS titles, too, arguably lack rule-manipulation. Any attempt to circumvent proper logic, or proper actions, is given a name — it becomes a viable tactic. War isn’t like that, however. The freedom to use the tools at your disposal however you want is an integral part of the enjoyment of battlefield strategy. You may need to read up on the capabilities of each of the 1400 units, but in doing so you’re developing an environment wherein you can accurately estimate the actions and positions of your enemies units within an exciting margin of error.
The principles are the same: minimal losses on your side; maximum efficiency; accurately react to the play-style of your enemy.
“It’s likely his command vehicle is in this area of the command point, because that’s where I’d have it” is a uniquely liberating realization that offers uniquely exhilarating rewards. Armed with nothing but knowledge of the rules of the game and your own experience, you’re able to conquer the map by blind-firing with the appropriate units — be it artillery, or napalm, or something. Guessing how unit-rich a counter offensive is based on the location of the enemies on the map, too, is an exciting part of putting together knowledge and experience. Through trial and error, working within a margin of error, risk/reward system, Wargame offers a gaming experience unlike anything seen for quite some time.
It’s really that ‘margin of error’ that makes Wargame such a good sport. Noticing the amount of fallen enemy aircraft over a game, saving up your air units for when theirs are almost depleted gives you a sense of satisfaction unlike anything previously I’ve previously seen, and it is precisely because you can win by bending the rules that makes Wargame so rewarding. While not a simulation, each unit functions within certain parameters, as in real life, and their uses mirror that of the real world. The principles are the same: minimal losses on your side; maximum efficiency; accurately react to the play-style of your enemy.
Whilst it has rules, they are meant to be broken
With 1400 units each unique to one and other in some minor or not-so-minor ways, Wargame is unlike any other RTS, or even card game. Whilst it has rules, they are meant to be broken, and there’s nothing more sporting that out-smarting your opponent because of something you thought of yourself, as a reaction, rather than ‘this named tactic is the one that is designed to be used’.
After playing each of the three games through to the VIP beta of the third, I feel strangely elated, and a lot more confident about my ability to make decent strategic decisions, and not just in the game itself. There absolutely should be loopholes in strategy, because it is through exploiting the loopholes that the real strategy comes into play. That’s why for me, learning what’s required to even ‘pick up’ a title is always more rewarding than learning the rules and mastering them. There’s something uniquely fresh about making up your own rules. If it works, it ain’t stupid.
Have you been anticipating the glorious whir of ship to air combat? Wait no longer, as PCGMedia and Raptor Gaming take on NATO in this exhilarating 4v4.
My initial impressions of Wargame: Red Dragon are unsurprisingly positive. The sounds of ship to air defense excited us all, and adding naval combat certainly expanded upon the games strategic depth more than the addition of aircraft.
Check out how we got on, and make sure to stick around until the end for my immediate impressions on Red Dragon’s 4v4 mode, where I highlight some potential balancing issues, and offer my solutions with the help of the ‘Rappack’.
Behind all the coverage of each Wargame title, there are questions that often remained unanswered. Perhaps they’re too subtle, or too meta. The Wargame series is relatively complex, and that’s why I took Alexis LeDressay, Eugen’s CEO, to one side for over an hour and a half to find out exactly what’s different in Red Dragon.
Some of you may have seen our GamesCom interview with LeDressay on YouTube, which gave a pretty good overview of their new title – but it didn’t really explain what all of the new features meant, and how they were different and important. For those who haven’t seen it, here’s that:
There are several very meaningful changes to the game, however, and the implementation of naval combat raised a lot of questions. Questions like “can’t ships just bombard land for miles?” and “how can you take down a destroyer with planes?” and “are there sea-only maps?” These questions were burning my third eye, and I got to the bottom of some of them.
Bombarding the map
Eugen seem to have gone with more authenticity
As Alexis excitedly pounced around each map, with ocean sometimes visible in a corner covering around 10-30%, or sometimes in each corner, I asked him what the range of ships attacking the shore would be. He pointed at a slice of land around 5-10% total of the map size, which sounds small but is actually pretty big considering the scale of the maps this time (although it’s probably only around 2 command points). There were, as I saw, some maps which had some ocean on one end and none on the other, which of course means that one team have access to ships whilst the others do not. Thankfully, in these cases they will not be able to bombard half the map with a sort of absurdly good artillery barrage. Not every map is the same, and some have more ocean than others; occasionally, water on each side is split with an indestructible bridge, which of course means ships from both sides will never meet in close quarters – an interesting dynamic.
Yes, you can correctly gather that Red Dragon has more map variation. Things are still balanced, but they’re not as manufactured as they seemed in previous games. Eugen seem to have gone with more authenticity, and LeDressay explains that the new Asian terrain allowed them to experiment more.
Wargame at sea
“If you want to go with a plane and attack a destroyer – with your aircraft alone – it will be destroyed. One aircraft has no chance to survive, but there are ways to destroy and sink this kind of ship. The mechanic is quite realistic…” Hint: it requires more than one plane.
There are of course amphibious vehicles, but more interestingly is the inclusion and addition of river-boats, which can weave their way down the rivers of the maps, burning infantry as they go. Yep, the T-55 flame tank now has a water-bound counterpart, and for (if I remember correctly) 30 points, it’s just as cheap. Infantry camping that bridge? No problem. That said, it would be relatively difficult to support them against heavy fire from something like a Harrier or any helicopter. The VIP beta will shine more light on that. It is, however, nice to see that Eugen are including boats all along the scope of unit cost from low to high.
Flying planes into a fleet of ships was like watching a sadistic fire-works display
I have to mention a change of heart on Eugen’s side: there are now naval only maps. Why? “Because we decided they are fun.” What better reason! This mode will be completely unique to the game, since there are a few key strategic vessels that make it a make or break scenario. For instance, ships will of course deplete ammunition relatively quickly when being attacked by a barrage of planes, and to replenish them you’ll need your supply ship. Lose your supply ship, and you’re basically fucked. This makes supply ships one such key strategic asset, more-so than in the land battles.
With vast open sea battles and a range of ships from 20 to X amount of points, creating a deck to suit your needs, and the necessary needs of the naval dynamic will be no easy task. For instance, buying the most expensive ship in the game may be a useful tactical asset, but it will be one that requires protection. That’s quite a lot of points into essentially one area of the map at a time, which will leave other parts of the map open. Whilst it’s true that it might be a very powerful and secure fleet on its own, it’s only one fleet. Perhaps it’s better to create fleets of smaller frigates and, at best, some destroyers? Then, larger ships will find it much easier to destroy those, and those in turn much more difficult to destroy the larger fleets. The balance is an interesting one that makes naval battles quite fascinating. One thing I learnt, as LeDressay and I both enjoyed watching, was that flying planes into a fleet of ships was like watching a sadistic fire-works display – and it was a beautiful one. Bad idea.
That’s why it’s important to destroy the support vessel. Once they’re out of ammunition, send in the planes. There are supply ships, escort ships, coastal supports, deep sea, etc. Each ship has an assigned role, and they’re balanced as such. Note: coastal defense ties into what I was saying earlier about the limitations of bombardment from the ocean. It’s coastal defense, not entire-map-apocalypse-time.
Ships are as offensive as they are defensive, and there’s safety in numbers. It seems to be a matter of keeping up your fire-rate of defensive barrages with the amount of offensive barrages thrown at you, from sea or air.
Water on one side, none on the other. How will the community react to traditionally well balanced maps?
Deck sharing, armory changes
So you’ve created that perfect deck, and your friend is new to the game and doesn’t quite know how to create one himself. You can now share decks with a generated code between players, simply copy the code into the chat window. This works similarly to Mass Effect‘s character creation codes. These can be shared on the forums, or as Alexis points out, shared between clans who are managed by one key mastermind with all the bright ideas. This is a feature primarily created for the ease of clan-play, and it’s nice to see them making a few things easier.
“It’s not great if someone is playing for example the Norwegian army, but it’s great if someone is playing Norwegian, another one US, etc. So this feature will allow people to create more dynamic groups if they are playing together,” explained LeDressay.
There have also been huge tweaks to the armory and deck creation process, with percentages replacing raw numbers to give an easier over-view of the power and limitations of each unit. Each time we meet, LeDressay is keen to point out that Wargame is, and never was, a simulation, and I think adding percentage bars makes this a little more clear. The other deck and armory changes are more aesthetic, but you can search for units by type, usage, and by typing names or keywords into the search bar now. Useful when there are 1500 units, right?
You can now also click two units to compare them, sort of like shopping for that new phone on upgrade day – only with explosions and glory. This all makes checking out the units in Wargame much easier.
Additional role-play features
Something people have been asking for now for some time is more options when creating matches, and Alexis has explained changes to custom matches such as the ability to lock down games to certain units, or unit eras. You can also force people to use nation-only decks, if you want, and he refers to this as a “role-play element” which “adds something new when you’re playing a skirmish” both online and offline. Of course, role-playing for the war-porn is completely viable in Wargame and its nice that it’s finally being supported, especially for those who enjoy the single player experience more than the multiplayer.
“If I want to train, I can give to the AI any deck I have created,” exclaimed Alexis. “If you want to have the challenge you’ve designed for yourself, you can do it also. It’s much more open, and it allows a lot of new ways to play.”
The new campaign (all six of them) – you can now save any time you want
Campaigns in Wargame are getting better each time, and there are many changes to this one. Eugen are insistent on creating a campaign similar to the old strategy titles of the past, so in order to explain the new campaign as best as possible I arranged for LeDressay to email an explanation of it for this article. I’ll reproduce it here in its entirety.
“The dynamic campaign was reworked in order to give the players more intellectual challenges on the strategic level, and to better connect both the strategic and tactical level. We felt that one of AirLand Battle’s shortcomings was that the player’s choices, on the strategic level, were restricted to moving its battlegroups up to the frontline. And once there, to fight to the death.
Battlegroups won’t be as powerful as in AirLand Battle
Also, stacking battlegroups in a same sector in ALB ended up with them fighting individual combats. A bit routinely, we must confess, which was one of the main criticism. That is why we will introduce the force concentration concept in Red Dragon : battlegroups won’t be as powerful as in AirLand Battle, they will actually be broken into several units, which the player will have to combine to create his tactical battlegroup. But contrary to ALB, he won’t be able to give the best support, recon, logistical, … units to every combat group. The player will have to make choices, to leave some units fight on their own while he allocates more units, with the most powerful assets, to the most important part of the theater.
Once the player has distributed his units between different sectors, the resulting combat for any contested one will be fought in one single tactical battle, combining every units on the sector into the ingame battlegroup, both for AI and player.
For the same reasons, air force squadrons will be independent units, attached by the player’s decision as air support to one sector for the turn … But of course, air force squadrons will be scarce and their range of action from their airfield depending on their type. Thus, a victorious offensive advancing far in enemy territory may suddenly fall short of air support due to the squadron’s range restriction. On the other hand, capturing an enemy airfield will allow the player to reassign his squadrons closer from the action, hence extending his “air force” umbrella.
Strategic assets, such as harbors & airfields, will therefore cease to be just “political” objectives, but have a real impact on the battle: airfields, as explained above, will accommodate squadrons to provide air support as close as possible from the frontline. Harbors will allow the players to replenish their decimated battlegroups’ strength. Of course, both will retain their “entry points” ability for reinforcements, although reinforcement convoys coming from the sea will no more “spawn” into the harbor: they will appear as a naval convoy, which the player will have to bring to port in the harbor where he wants it deployed. Beware the enemy naval patrols, then, for the mightiest armored regiment shall easily be sent to the bottom of the sea if caught up sailing unprotected.
Carriers are not modeled ingame, for they are out of scale with the rest of the game
And with Red Dragon’s focus on naval warfare, a new strategic asset will be introduced: carrier groups. Carriers are not modeled ingame, for they are out of scale with the rest of the game, but will be represented by a “task force” made of smaller ships which mission will be to keep enemy ships at bay. Thus, a “carrier group” will be a naval battlegroup, with a deck composed of ships and naval helicopters or air force squadrons. The latter ones can be projected to support ground troops, or be used at sea to bring naval air force squadrons, armed with dedicated (and deadly) anti-ship missiles, to a ship-to-ship engagement. Therefore, carrier groups combine the roles of both naval battlegroups & mobile airfields, which can be moved along the coasts to provide air support to advancing ground units where ground-based airfields might be lacking.”
The campaign has been expanded and tweaked based on feedback, and from what I’ve seen of it the added depth will make it viably worth your time. I did not personally enjoy the campaign of Wargame: Airland Battle, because the time limits and enemy AI made the experience fairly formulaic, and since the AI did not in any way play like the player, it felt like an unnatural experience. LeDressay explains that this time although the experience will be dissimilar to the multiplayer game, it will be more enjoyable and polished than the campaigns before it. The morale system, which I shall come to next, seems to highlight this fact.
The morale system
Again, a complicated new implementation, LeDressay has kindly agreed to explain it in his own terms:
“Starting points and victory points to reach for a given combat will also follow the rules of force concentration. Each unit will have its own moral and initiative, and the battlegroup’s will be the combination of the latter. And the breaking point (either for a single unit or the battlegroup) will be depending on its total strength: a highly motivated battlegroup with a moral of 6 will be able to withstand 60% casualties before routing. If this battlegroup totalizes 10.000$ worth of units, this means the enemy will have to inflict 6.000 victory points worth of casualties before its moral falls apart.”
“Since individual units only have a handful of moral points, it will be all the wiser to combine several of them to boost their moral. And the more expensive (and powerful) the units you add to them, the higher their breaking point, representing the fact that a battlegroup’s personnel knowing it can count on Challenger tanks for support will have a higher spirit than those only relying on a few anti-tank jeep to deal with enemy armors.
And that’s exactly where tactical HQs will play their part. They are sub-units, very few in numbers, with hardly a real frontline unit in its roaster, but bringing a lot of initiative and moral points to the sector they’re in,. Also, what they lack in combat units, they will make up with command and logistical units, making it all the more easy to control the battlefield, feed the fight with a seemingly endless stream of ammos and replacements, … This represents the regimental/brigade commander putting all its weight in a given sector.”
It’s exactly what you think it is. You’re now able to slow the game down or speed it up in single player modes by -5-+5. This is as much about enjoying the visuals of the game as it is speeding up the process if you already know what you’re doing. That necessary schlep across an open field needn’t take as long as it does, and if you want to watch vehicles and aircraft or ships in battle (try it with planes vs ships!) you can now slow down time considerably. This lets the player enjoy the battlefield whilst reducing the risk of quickly being overwhelmed. It’s awesome, because Wargame is a beautiful game, and it’s often seen from above.
Aircraft carriers, submarines and destructible bridges – or lack-thereof
“Do we have submarines, or carriers? We thought that probably we should focus on ship battles, anti-air, planes, things like that. Is it interesting to fight with submarines straight away?” asked LeDressay probably rhetorically. I knew what he meant. From what I’ve seen, there are enough strategic targets at sea to worry about, and whilst more content is always nice, there’s a risk of things becoming quite convoluted. We eventually agreed (or perhaps I convinced him) that these things could be explored in DLC down the line, once people have gotten to grips with naval combat and are keen for more.
“Normally the carrier… you have a lot of boats with escort. We thought about it, but we’re not really sure…” I guess what he meant was that spending too much on escort ships for each strategically invaluable unit would be too problematic given the cost and consistent want to veer away from micromanagement.
Interestingly, LeDressay is all for the addition of destructible bridges, but there is “a lot of discussion from some of the developers that this is unrealistic,” among some complaints. We won’t see it in Red Dragon, but we took some time to discuss this.
These amphibious units would seem perfect for that.
The issue is that rebuilding the bridges in real-time would of course be unrealistic, but in real life there are units capable of pulling across floating bridges even as early as World War II. These amphibious units would seem perfect for that. What’s more, it would not be over-powered if infantry specialists were the only units able to blow up bridges, since their deployment is slow. This would solve the issue of, say, a fleet heading to a point and the other team quickly throwing artillery to destroy the bridge which, admittedly, would be rather boring. My solution of infantry to destroy and LAV’s to deploy temporary crossings interested LeDressay, but there was no confirmation that we’d ever see this feature, even though he is keen on the idea.
With so many rivers and bridges in Red Dragon on most maps, and amphibious vehicles, planes, and boats, it seems logical that some smaller bridges should be destructible, whilst key bridges should remain unhindered.
From talking about Red Dragon with LeDressay, I can tell you that the developer is actively listening to your feedback. Whilst a lot of the time they may disagree, key ideas are implemented in updates. As for UI changes and under-the-bonnet changes, all he would say is that “we are constantly improving the engine,” with no information on stability or sync issue changes, and for the most part the UI seemed similar although it’s deathly important to note that the UI is almost always the last thing implemented into a production build: most likely not the final UI.
Red Dragon is looking rather good, and it’s obvious the series still has a lot of room for expansion. Red Dragon will offer more content than the gap between European Escalation and Airland Battle, and it should be priced around the same.
VIP beta starts in around 2 weeks. As for who’s invited, I’ve no idea. Although I am. I’ll bring you more at that point. Perhaps we’ll be seeing a release around March or April of this year.
Although some argue that Eugen Systems’ upgraded Wargame series – with its sometimes subtle additions – isn’t the way sequels should be produced, none can deny that they’ve done a great job offering additional supportive content throughout the games life, however short lived each iteration is.
Our interview with Eguen’s chief as he revealed Red Dragon
Next year, Wargame Red Dragon is entering the playing-field, and many of the series long-time fans will be wondering what – aside from additional content – Eugen are doing to fix the games inherent issues, such as balancing and sync issues that have plagued the series from the beginning.
Although not a simulation, Wargame seeks to emulate the complexity and tactile nature of real-world combat, in the same way that, perhaps, Need For Speed Shift 2 is a racing sim: not simulating real life, but loosely simulating the feeling or experience of something through more superficial means, with more depth than something arcadey.
One of the most attractive, overwhelming, and complex features of Wargame has been the in depth ‘deck’ system which, like a card game, allows players to pick ‘minions’, ‘cards’, or, actually, technology to be used in multiplayer games. This all made Wargame one of the most complex and interesting RTS games in years, quickly snatching up the high-brow players untapped, and not attracted to the more eSports ventures.
Our breakdown of AirLand Battle’s deck system
Without any knowledge on the real-world war technologies of the 70′s and 80′s to early 90′s, you might feel at a loss in Wargame, but the first title’s European Escalation received an additional campaign and ‘comp stomp’ mode at no extra cost to the consumer post release. These allowed players to hone their skills, and AirLand Battle introduced more variety and clarity in the deck system, with incentives to select ‘cards’ pertaining to a single specific nation respectively. These incentives included the allocation of more ‘cards’ per deck, and the ability to use that nation’s most powerful weaponry – the catch was that sticking to a single nation left you with a less versatile deck, but it made it easier for new players to compete.
Now, before Red Dragon’s release, AirLand Battle receives its content update (and not its first), named Magna Carta.
AirLand Battle introduced 10v10, a new game mode which quickly rose in popularity to, perhaps, the surprise of the developer. Featuring only one map, 10v10 was predicted to be chaotic, and less popular than the other game modes, and smaller maps. In practice, however, 10v10 was a much more controlled and orchestrated environment than anyone really expected, which was unfortunate due to the nature of a single map getting pretty repetitive.
Magna Carta extends the rota to three 10v10 maps, all equally balanced without losing too much authenticity of the environments we’ve come to enjoy from the series.
Along with the two new 10v10 maps comes balance changes to the almost 900 units in the game, and 12 new units:
With the 2 new 10v10 maps is included 4 additional maps for 1v1 to 3v3, although the DLC is primarily focused on large scale warfare. Eugen are also recycling one map from European Escalation, the first game in the series, although unlike DICE they’re not charging 14.99 for the privilege.
How it plays
Although the new units are mostly minor, and many will be set in their ways with decks they’ve found to work unwilling to risk losses for new content, the additional German F-4 Phantom II is great for those with the German deck, the second time Eugen have drastically improved a nation deck, previously improving Sweden.
Unfortunately, the DLC only comes with minor value changes mostly pertaining to points and values, and not much under the bonnet. The 10v10 maps were entirely necessary, and I honestly don’t feel as though playing any of the other game modes is as fun as 10v10, but that burned out quickly because of the single map. It’s nice to have a few more units for some of the inherently smaller, or weaker, nations, but I still can’t shake the feeling that playing with the major players of each Eastern or Western force is the best way to go.
That said, it’s a nice close to AirLand Battle, and I suppose Eugen are saving the under-the-bonnet changes for the aforementioned 2014 Red Dragon.
If you haven’t already, I urge you to go ahead and check out AirLand Battle’s 10v10 mode, and if you’re a new player, there’s no better way to get stuck in than to go right into multiplayer. Although the reluctantly created comp-stomp is a nice segway into understanding the game’s mechanics, the AI doesn’t perform the least bit like the community, which will ultimately lead you into the wrong direction. Those looking for a more fun, more chaotic war experience which is, in some ways, more realistic, head for the 2 new 10v10 maps, else wait for the next game in the series which takes Wargame into the early 90′s, adding battleships and amphibious vehicles.
Around a month ago, we broke the news that Wargame: Red Dragon was in development, giving you the most in-depth interview from our hub at Gamescom. Check out that interview below:
Since then, Eugen Systems have been working on releasing more information on the game, although technical details are still scant.
Wargame Red Dragon retains the same core game mechanics that made the series so successful, but the action leaves Europe for the first time and moves to a conflict in Asia between 1975 and 1991.
5 new nations, among which China and North Korea, join the armed forces in Wargame, with over 450 new units. The introduction of naval and amphibian units is a particular highlight, with the maritime and river areas providing fresh strategic opportunities! The full cohort of each army is represented with a phenomenal total of more than 1,300 unitsand combat vehicles, all reproduced in meticulous detail from real-world models. A new solo campaign plunges players headlong into a hellish war around Korea, while Wargame’s extensive and road-tested multiplayer mode will engage them in some intense and spectacular battles with up to 20 other players simultaneously!
Set in the late 80′s, early 90′s, Wargame: Red Dragon features over 1000 units, including the Blackhawk helicopter.
Le Dressay explained that rather than rolling back their aspirations for a great single player campaign, they’ve continued to search for the best possible experience they can create. Within the primary dynamic campaign of Red Dragon, there will be around 20 mini campaigns, as Le Dressay explains, the possibilities of historically accurate mini-battles are “endless”.
Set completely in Asia, the game’s primary focus will switch from conquest mode to destruction mode, for a more “realistic” war experience. Terrain will play a part, with the rocky hills and uneven terrain making it difficult for units to fire over relatively low obstructions, meaning players will have to be very map-aware.
The biggest new feature is a new UI overhaul and the introduction of amphibious vehicles, like the LAV, and ship-based units, which will offer command points in the ocean, and allow for full scale ocean battles at the shore, as well as support on land from battleships and frigates.
There will not, however, be sea-only battles – Le Dressay explained that in tests, they weren’t that interesting. That’s certainly true of Total War and Dragon Commander.
Watch our interview, including a showcase below for all the details, or wait for the alpha which will be coming in the next few months to anyone who owns previous Eugen Systems games.
Start – The title of the new game
0:39 – Why a new Wargame so soon after AirLand Battle?
2:10 – Why limit player choice? (amount of players per map)
3:45 – With so many units, why can the community pressure you to use a select few?
6:20 – What are the major changes people should expect in Red Dragon?
7:47 – What has the new game got that AirLand Battle doesn’t have?
8:08 – Setting and context
9:46 – Amphibious LAV’s
10: 39 – New sea units
11:14 – New unit count
12:43 – New dynamic campaign details
14:38 – What did you learn from AirLand Battle’s campaign?
16:22 – Why do you even feel the need to have a single player campaign in Wargame?
17:44 – Will there be an economy in the campaign?
18:06 – What’s happening with 10v10?
19:10 – When’s the alpha phase, and who’s in?
We’re going to have an inherently awkward time, you and I. You’re one of two people: a hardcore Wargame fan since European Escalation, or you’re someone intrigued by the style, perhaps a fan of R.U.S.E, wanting to know what the game is about. Wargame AirLand Battle isn’t problematic because it’s inaccessible, it’s problematic because it’s so bloody good that covering it in the appropriate detail would make this a very tedious read for most of you. That is by no means a bad thing.
AirLand Battle is the sequel to Eugen Systems’ cold war RTS, European Escalation. The first question for fans of EE who haven’t yet checked out the extensive beta is: “is this just a content patch for European Escalation?” This is a point of contention. Whilst much of the game remains the same in dynamic and structure, the plethora of both aesthetic and technical changes and additions have so far planted massive grins of those who’ve gotten their hands on the game. In short, AirLand Battle improves upon European Escalation in pretty much every conceivable way possible, throwing more than double the content on top of that, as well as what is supposed to be a proper campaign, which is now even playable in multiplayer. Its brilliance renders European Escalation obsolete – that’s how I’ve chosen to look at it.
What is this illusive, under-the-radar release? Wargame is an RTS series that, to some extent, offers exceptional macro-style gameplay that we really don’t see in many RTS games now’days. This isn’t rock paper scissors, and it’s not about sending a few guys onto a control point and defending against three types of units with the only units suited to do so. You won’t see this in eSports bars, and you’ll likely not come across many AirLand Battle posters on your way to South Korea. It’s not without micromanagement, but if you’re a war enthusiast interested in strategy and authenticity, then Wargame AirLand battle is the sandbox RTS environment you’ve been waiting for. There’s nothing like it.
With an increase of over 400 units over its predecessor, bringing the total number of playable units to over 700, AirLand Battle brings tangible choice to the RTS genre. Units are split into their respective nationality, and even their respective decade if you so wish. The units you play with in multiplayer depend on the ‘deck’ (pack of units) you choose, from a range of preset decks for each of the nationalities under PACT and NATO. In short, units are split between PACT and NATO, and then between the nationalities within each strategic arrangement. You can mix and match, or you can stick to a single nationality, and a single strategic type (for example armored, or air) for various bonuses.
Pick your bonus – although I can’t vouch for their strategic relevance. It all feels very academic to me, but it’s nice you’ve a choice.
Bonuses you say? Why, yes. You wouldn’t have over 700 units without any tangible choice. This choice is made evident in the totally essential albeit quite overwhelming deck creation system. Your deck is a little part of you, in game, which is either decided by how you play, or decides how you play. The process of picking which units you want to use in game is made easier by the inclusion of an extensive armory, which lists and displays every single unit in the game, showing variable such as armor penetration for the ammunition, to ammunition types, their ranges, and all of the armour thickness and positioning. The armory serves as a sort of Cold War war-porn magazine, where a little study goes a long way. The best way, however, is to use some of the pre-made decks to see what does what, and what you’d rather use or not use.
As previously stated, you can create your own decks. You can mix it up for choice if you’d like, or stick to a single nationality within the PACT or NATO groups. I personally prefer to get the first bonus by sticking to one nationality: French for NATO, and Russian for PACT. I could choose mobility type for an added bonus, and even the era of the vehicles for another, but I find this superfluous and academic rather than practically useful. Using a partisan deck allows me to use some of the strongest units that nationality has to offer, but some of the weaker nationalities will leave you with some limited tactical choices – but you’ll be allowed more of their unit types.
Be sure to invest in some good anti-air units, though, this is AirLand Battle after-all. The armory is incredibly impressive, and good fun to tinker around with, and the deck creation system has been substantially streamlined – it’s much easier to see vehicle progression, and navigating each line/unit type is intuitive and self explanatory, a far cry from European Escalation‘s convoluted albeit manageable system.
So you have a deck prepared, but what’s it all for? That really depends on what kind of player you are. Wargame AirLand Battle is a potentially fantastic experience in multiplayer, but there are times where community nattering has lead to some underwhelming gaming experiences. In European Escalation we saw the over-use of artillery, rushing with helicopters, and planting cheap infantry in bushes with view to rush with their cheap armored vehicles. I’m happy to say that much, if not all of this has been fixed. Artillery seems so much more balanced. It is costly to keep in service since ammunition depletes rapidly, and its suppression effectiveness is much more apparent than previously, where it seemed mostly used for offensive purposes. There are rarely any artillery spammers, and never any helicopter rushers.
The beta saw a return of a few of these tactics, primarily shoving a bajillion unwilling men into a bushline and tossing their vehicles into the fray, but you’ve now many more options as to how to handle that. For instance, dropping napalm from a plane is a good way to flush out any pesky – however cheap – enemies. You can also napalm roads for a strategic troll, even if there’s nothing on them, knowing the enemy will be using them, which is always fun. It’s no more about annoyingly ineffective t55′s with flamers, you’ve white phosphorous, napalm, and effective artillery to sort out some of the problems that we saw in the games predecessor.
What of the aforementioned problems in this installment, then? AirLand Battle is immensely complex on the balancing side of things, but Eugen Systems have done a phenomenal job at balancing it. It’s far more balanced than EE, but a couple of things seem to have been overlooked – if you can call it that. For example, when a player drops, their units are passed onto another player… the problem is, it seems that only one player inherits the dropped players’ units from the game. In other words, one player inherits all the units from all of the players who drop, rather than giving one player another’s units, and then the next player the units of the next guy who drops. I don’t know if this is intentional or a bug, but it’s problematic when it causes one player to be overstretched in an unbalanced battle.
A second issue I have is with the way that the planes evacuate. You can issue orders to your planes to evac if they’re in trouble, or out of ammo, or for any reason you see fit, but their directional turning arch to get off the map isn’t something you can really decide. Often, they’ll make a considerably larger than necessary directional arch that might take them over enemy AA that you knew was there. They could have gone left instead of right and survived, but there’s no way to, say, drag the direction of their intended evac to avoid known problems. This can be quite trying if you’ve sent out five or so Mig’s to deal with a problem, which they solved, only to inexplicably evac through an enemy AA field because, for some reason, they took a left instead of a right. It’s true that, possibly, you can solve this by directing them to a safer area before you tell them to evac, but we’re trying to move away from micromanagement as much as possible.
No more micromanagement in urban areas is genuinely a relief.
I don’t say that without substantiating my claims – there are examples of how micromanagement has been quelled. The way units are managed in clusters of buildings is one such example. In AirLand Battle you tell units to enter cover in general areas outlined, if a village, by a white grid along the peripheries of the cover. The unit does the rest – maneuvering round to get line of sight, or moving from building to building. You no longer have to worry about which way your units are facing in urban clusters, which is a good thing. It’s also essential.
This means that carelessness rewards the enemy.
The dynamic of combat remains quite similar. AirLand Battle is about capturing the most with as little as possible, generally. You spend points collected over time, increasing with the amount of command areas held, to buy units to strategically take over the map. Supremacy isn’t the only condition for winning, with most games hitting the point limit set by the host, or earning the most amount of points before time runs out. The catch with Wargame is that finishing blows will earn you the amount of points that unit you just murdered cost. This means that carelessness rewards the enemy, which is fairly unique in the RTS genre, at least in this very literal way.
The wonderful thing about Wargame AirLand Battle is that a well structured defense is just as lucrative as a winning offensive. Yes, it’s true that without an offense you can’t hope to capture further points, but if you manage to stand off a large army with very little units, you earn enough points to counter-attack against, inevitably, a very weak one. The exciting thing about all this is that it makes games balanced, and almost never one sided. There are ample opportunities to redeem yourself and go for the win, which means that most players stay with games right until the end. It’s possible to win with a single tank left, if you’re near the point limit, or if the time runs out in our favor.
It’s sometimes funny to have a stack of helicopters ready for a counter attack.
Eugen Systems have done a substantial amount of work to ensure that players are sporting in how they play, but your enjoyment is still determined by the strategies employed by other players. There are formulaic ways to do things, and if you’re aware of them, you’ll employ formulaic responses. This can be a little tiresome given the fact there’s an astonishing opportunity to experiment, but I find that the more I play over time, the less I see of European Escalation favorites returning, with more unique and risky tactics being employed.
Things aren’t all technical, though, you’ll be drawn in by the realistically rendered, totally authentic Scandinavian backdrop of war. Whether you’re zoomed all the way in, or out, AirLand Battle is a beautiful game. Sound is magnificently designed, with the addictive boom and clatter of tanks and rifles surrounding you at all angles. Watching the screen shake up close in tank battles feels authentic and exciting, but AirLand Battle really is a chaos that demands your attention in the overview view.
The addition of 10v10… superficial chaos for the sake of it?
AirLand Battle has the same 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, etc, game types, but this time Eugen Systems have included a 10v10 mode which I was promised to be chaotic. The strange thing is, it isn’t particularly chaotic. If anything, 10v10 is where AirLand Battle most shines. The competency of the players often means that 10v10 matches are brilliantly orchestrated tactical displays, where 10 players all pull together over, currently, a single map, exploiting and counter-exploiting all the tactically advantageous points. Why is 10v10 the best experience? It really allows the added planes to come into their own. On some of the smaller maps, the speed in which the glass-cannon planes intercept often made them sort of throwaway decisions. Interceptors aren’t much use when the maps are too small to actively go and intercept them. In 10v10, among the chaos, it’s possible to spot things coming and plan a viable counter attack. That, and you can’t expect your jets to make it to your target right away, so you have to plan in advance. The massive scale feels much more natural than some of the smaller games, and they’re more tactically enriching and rewarding at times.
If this is overwhelming to you, Company of Heroes 2 will be out soon.
One might argue that 10v10 can be quite formulaic, since points of occupation are sort of obvious on the map. If you’re on the right, you know exactly where you must go every time, and if you’re on the left, it’s the same. The middle can offer some reaction and diversity, but many matches follow a stringent design. That said, it doesn’t weaken the experience at all, because with over 700 variable units you still have to react to what you’re getting, even if you’re trying to do the same thing every time.
For me, 10v10 AirLand Battle is the best RTS experience you can possibly have.
Is the campaign revamp a success?
Eugen Systems aren’t happy with European Escalation’s campaign – that’s no secret. They’ve made a substantial effort to take the Scandinavian region and offer context this time around, with a strategy map we’re seeing a lot more of recently. Not a complete clone of Risk, but with some similarities, AirLand Battle offers a range of campaigns with different objectives, over different amounts of time, along the same Scandinavian region. You start with few units, clicking on parts of the map you want to travel to, clicking ‘Send Orders’ to effectively end your turn and allow your units to act. If you land on a tile with enemy units, you can either avoid battle or go right into it – you can’t retreat at that point.
It’s like an RPG! With genocide and international law! Yay!
Choosing to fight will throw you into the standard Wargame style game, but depending on the strength of the unit on your tile, and the enemies, the victory conditions will change. You won’t start with the specific units you have on your tile, but the strength of the unit on your tile will dictate how many points you have to spend on the preset deck in game. The amount of points you need to earn for victory changes depending on the amount of enemy units on the tile, too.
The campaign features maps not seen in the multiplayer game, so that’s novel, but essentially you’re just doing a skirmish against the AI. If you don’t enjoy ‘comp stomping’, you probably won’t get much from the campaign. Behind all the contextual pomp, it’s essentially a consecutive chain of skirmishes that reset every time, with different variables for each battle. The AI is much improved from European Escalation, but very quickly I found myself just camping the main roads, upon which the enemy AI seemed to just drive back and forth. Playing against AI definitely loses some of the games charm.
Just camping this street, and all streets like it, seems to be the best way to rack up points until the clock runs out. Game breaking?
Upon victory, which is almost always based on the amount of points you have when the clock runs out, the enemy will usually retreat until the game decides you destroyed the entire battlegroup. If so, you’ll likely have to repeat the 20 minute match against an enemy with a smaller amount of deployment points, on the same map. I prefer Total War‘s system of being able to chase a very weak enemy down and automatically fighting the game for you if it’s clearly going to be a victory. You can’t do that here, and that’s annoying because every match is the same: deploy FOV, spend deployment points, go and find the enemy. There’s no consistency, for instance, whilst I get to keep the control points I earned the last time I played it, I have to purchase all my units again, including command vehicles (if I wish to keep the control points I captured), and guess once again where the enemy might be. Setting up all your defenses in this manner, when you planned for an enemy that might have been at another part of the map, is a bit of a pain in the arse – it feels like an oversight.
The campaign is certainly an improvement on the original’s, and it does offer some interesting features such as tactical decisions that show up based on contextual situations. For instance, the PM of Finland stepped down, which caused some variable instability I could or couldn’t exploit. Other, off-screen decisions are also made which I can either allow or decline, which changes the position of units at times. There are also storms which can jeopardize reinforcements. It’s not all about what you do in the battle, though. Picking which tile to send units too, and their reinforcements, is of course of great tactical importance, and you can even bring nukes down on tiles to weaken the opponent. The problem is, everything you do on the campaign map is staggered by battles which really aren’t all that fun. The campaign doesn’t have the depth of something like Victoria II, or a comparable Paradox game, although it looks similar at face value, and everything you do is a means to another tedious and repetitive battle that feels just like another. The AI isn’t intelligent so much as random, and fighting it isn’t anywhere near as fun as fighting in multiplayer.
I know where some of these places are… thank you Millennium series.
Because of this, whilst there is context to the campaign, I don’t really feel like I’m working towards anything important. You’re given objectives, and certain things mix it up a bit, but all this prettiness of GUI and grid-layout merely masks what is essentially formulaic and pre-determined compstomps with decks you mightn’t enjoy. If you enjoy the victory variables and historically contextual tile variables that appear, however, I believe that some of you will ‘get into it’, but on its own I’m not sure it’s quite as grand as Eugen would have hoped. There’s really no way to fix the problem that is AirLand Battle shines in multiplayer.
If you want to fight the AI, you can run skirmish matches which are, this time, included from release. The inclusion of a campaign, which I was very much looking forward to, mind you, seems like a ticked box, which is a damn real shame. It lacks drama and nuance, but it’s a valiant effort when it comes to the tone and context. It’s not something I particularly care about, though, and I don’t plan on punishing them for adding something as an extra. It feels very… irrelevant. However, you can play the campaign against people online, similarly to drop in enemies in other games. Doing this, though, is a sure fire way to distance yourself from campaign progress, once again asking myself: if I want to play multiplayer, why don’t I just go ahead and do that?
Moving away from European Escalation
Things in Wargame AirLand Battle change rapidly. When exploits or balancing issues are talked about, they’re almost instantly repaired. This is a supremely well maintained game, and Eugen System have even taken the trouble to host 10v10 games on their side to prevent issues with hosts being a bit shit. This is their baby, and it’s clear they all care about it. It shows. It’s a superb RTS, and in my opinion remains unmatched in the macromanagement scene. I was worried that planes would be over-powered, but in practice they’re glass cannons that require knowledge and strategy to efficiently strike. Things can go two ways: point fodder, or sharply orchestrated strike. As with everything in Wargame, it’s just a matter of experience through playing.
Visually, technically, and strategically, AirLand Battle is sublime, and any niggles I have with the multiplayer side of things are highly academic. It’s easy to be nit-picky and claim X unit has Y problem, or that A unit is afflicted with B issue. None of that really matters when it comes down to the enjoyment factor. AirLand Battle remains a primarily multiplayer experience, and I expect the campaign will be more of a learning experience. However, the AI plays almost nothing like players seen in the multiplayer, so prepare to relearn once you’re done there. The authenticity, technicality, and scale of AirLand Battle completely blows aside my issues for the campaign, which secures a victory for this series as my top RTS of the moment. I gave European Escalation a solid five stars, and AirLand Battle improves upon it in every single way – including the campaign, although it’s still not to my taste. It doesn’t deserve anything less than the five stars it’s most certainly earned this time around, too.
Wargame: AirLand Battle‘s multiplayer is so good that we literally forgot the game was coming with a campaign component until the press release soared our way.
Eugen Systems promised great improvements over the campaign of European Escalation, but so far this illusive component has managed to avoid our radar. Now, however, they’ve released details of the up and coming campaign mode, and we’ve got them right here:
“Willing to make something very different from the solo campaigns of Wargame European Escalation, Eugen Systems made great efforts to offer Wargame AirLand Battle an exciting campaign, both innovating and fascinating. As you can see on today’s screenshots, you will first handle in this campaign your army and your battle groups, on a huge strategic map representing Europe: ordering movements, asking for reinforcements, but also launching support strikes such as intelligence missions, special forces strikes, satellite spying, bombardment, tactical nuclear attacks, etc…”
A new detail we didn’t know for sure what that the single player campaign can be played… multiplayer, “against another player”.
“The solo part of the game is composed of several new dynamic campaigns, during which you will manage all aspects of the battle. Lead each squad of the Theatre of Operation, and make good use of your reinforcements and strategic support. Each decision you make has an impact on the tactical outcome of battles, and also impacts the evolution of the global conflict!Wargame: AirLand Battle still allows you to customize your own army in solo and multiplayer modes, thanks to the ‘Deck’ system, which is now being enhanced with an integrated ‘viewer’.”
You can purchase the beta now to play a sample of the multiplayer, excluding some of the maps. The deck system is unlocked, but you cannot yet play the campaign. You also get a substantial discount if you own the original Europen Escalation. Check out our past coverage of the Wargame series.
Following our previous article criticizing some of the more intimate matches in AirLand battle, we’ve been looking at the newly released 10v10 matches in the game. Quite simply, 10v10 AirLand Battle is the most fun you can have in an RTS with your clothes on or off.
I was promised a chaotic experience in 10v10 AirLand Battle, but what I got was a slow, controlled, almost simulation like experience where forward planning was the key, and the right deck was essential. Pick your spots, plan your movies, and wait to establish what you’re up against.
The wide open spaces with plenty of room to flank and advance mean some seriously careful planning.
Let’s remind ourselves of Eugen’s word from the initial preview back in February:
“The idea is to have an RTS – it’s not a simulation – an RTS that is… we wanted something very different where it is about thinking, it’s about taking a decision. It’s not an “action RTS,” Le Dressay explained. “A lot of our players say there is a problem with the game: I should not be fast. There is a risk that someone beats me because he plays faster than me? It’s not about this, it’s about thinking, knowing the units, and having an RTS that is extremely rich in terms of mechanics.” The co-founder said that Wargame AirLand Battle is made for people “who’d like to have something of a different flavor” [than the usual rock-paper-scissors mechanics based micromanagement experiences].
10v10 reveals this ethos with crystal clarity. The slow, methodical approach to battle disallows tree-hugging, artillery exploitation, or otherwise less sporting tactical persuasions. Careful memory of the most exploitable areas of the map is hugely beneficial, and the vastness the battleground is favorable to planes - especially Mig’s.
With 10 peoples units following the main highways to the front-lines, protecting that lifeline is vital.
We criticized the smaller games for poorly showcasing the tactical uses for planes. In 1v1 to 2v2 matches, the size of the map and relative use of pockets of infantry meant that there was always something ready to take down that expensive jet. On the 10v10 map, the wide open spaces make for some breathtaking dog-fights, using upwards of 5 planes at once from only one commander (out of a possible 10).
Calling on a Mig to instantly counter-attack some oncoming enemy jets is a real thrill – made even more enthralling by the fact that you know the enemy hasn’t got a crap ton of AA infantry all over the map (because of how cheap and effective they are), due to the sheer expansiveness and area to cover. This makes AA placement strategically important. If an attack from the air got you, it’s because you were too busy with the front-lines, and forgot about some of the weaker areas of the map.
Dropping napalm on a road is an effective way to buy yourself some time, and burn unsuspecting insurgencies.
10v10 is all about establishing the strongest front-line defense, and coordinating with your teammates to hold it – all’s the while sewing up any loose ends regarding the enemies ability to flank round you. You’d think that one breach at any part of the map meant that it was over for your team. Not so: most 10v10 games have been played with a points cap, and given that losing a unit grants the opponent however many points that unit cost, a strong-if-small defensive line can be a very good points sieve.
The primary micromanagement is about moving your front-lines away from enemy artillery.
A slow, methodic but no less exhilarating experience, 10v10 tempts you to throw your best planes into the fray at every turn, but doing so both costly and deadly. You can only bring on so many planes during one match, and the loss of one means that it’s much more difficult to counter an enemy insurgence of jets. The long off-screen cooldown, too, means that calling them on just at the right moment is ever-so vital.
Capturing an enemy base and FOV is a huge blow to the opposing force, with many people surrendering at this point.
Pushing up one of the two flanks is the most common path to victory, with the right flank often the most contended. On this map, you can bring on more units incredibly close to the top left and right control points, which is excellent for front-line defense There’s a catch, however, since often the units you want to send into the middle later in the game will, if captured, come from the top left or right control areas. This means that a concentrated barrage on those locations by the enemy is a very effective means to suppress reinforcements, and weaken the central point on the map, even if you have more control points than they do.
Surprising enemy infantry with some of the cheapest tanks in the game is a fun little way to get side-tracked, but be sure to catch them off guard. If the enemy has recon, they’ll blow you away before you can surprise them.
You’d be surprised just how different 10v10 is to the smaller games in Wargame: AirLand Battle. You wouldn’t think it, but I found them much less stressful, and it was much easier to out-maneuver my enemy. As previously stated, it’s no use relying on the same tactics set by the community for the smaller maps: this is a new feature, and by in large there’s no stencil for exactly how to orchestrate it.
It’s not so important that you talk to your team. Each of you controlling a quality front line is a good key to success, regardless of how well you get on. It’s not a speedy, messy, or particularly confusing experience - it’s clean, methodical, and much more strategic than the smaller games.
If you were thinking about skipping AirLand Battle, the 10v10 game-mode should come dangerously close to making you change your mind. It’s the closest thing the game’s gotten to a simulator, and its slower pace means it’s a slightly more relaxing experience – but only if you’ve applied the appropriate forward thinking.
Let’s hope for more 10v10 maps soon, because the beta currently only offers one. The question now is: is 10v10 a novel little side-game? Or is this more open, tactical experience the perfect battlezone to introduce players to jets. It’s certainly more suited to aerial battle.
To check out what we thought about the new deck system – complete with a tutorial commentary on how to make your first deck, watch the video below:
There are a suspicious amount of cynical tacticians considering how huge and dynamic a sandbox this is. War porn for the masses, so why the cookie-cutter tactics?
Throughout our coverage of Wargame: AirLand Battle, I’ll be bringing you updates on the new features and my impressions of the game right up to release. In this installment, I want to talk about a very generalized impression of the tactics and ethos employed by players to win. I won’t go into much detail about the exact units used, so much as the direction and orchestration of what the community considers to be the perfect win. This is an opinion piece.
You can read my initial preview of the title, written back in Feburary, where we were introduced to the game, and got to talk a little bit about it with the man behind the series, Alexis Le Dressay. Find that here.
Some of you might already have watched my first 1v1 video of the game, which you’ll find embedded below. I think a nice way to begin this piece would be to straighten out a few things regarding this video. Already I’ve experienced hard-core players from the Wargame series criticizing the tactics I employed: “No logical tactics were used”. I won. You can’t get much more logical than that. In all seriousness, the purpose of this video was to bring you an unplanned and completely organic “every-man” presentation of Wargame: AirLand battle. Wargame isn’t just a series enjoyed by hardcore league players, and we’re not covering the title from that perspective. It’s as simple as that. We wanted to jump right in after only a single warm-up battle, and give you what should literally be considered our first impression preview of the early beta.
As stated, we’re going to bring you a 2v2 and hopefully a 10v10 recorded match in the future. None of them will employ the community favorite tactics, and I’ll explain why in a moment. Check out the video below if you haven’t seen it. (Actually, for those of you who criticize my level – whilst that’s irrelevant because it was a first impressions – you should note that we have multiple copies of the games across multiple accounts, and we were already aware of the mechanics and changes from talking to the developer).
On to the topic at hand. My absolutely biggest pet hate in gaming is cookie-cutter tactics. I hate it when MMO players obsess over the most efficient, most perfect builds – and I hate it when an RTS has quite clearly the right way to do things, and the wrong way to do things. European Escalation suffered in atmosphere because it became apparent quite quickly that the best way to win was to forget that what you are playing is a heavily authentic, incredibly beautiful and atmospheric war game. According to the numbers from Le Dressay, EE employed 300 units, whereas AirLand Battle has 700, ish – yet you had to use them this way, and to do things that way, otherwise you were doing it “wrong”.
The number of units at your disposal means that this RTS is the perfect candidate for explorative and dynamic play. If you want to see what happens if you take a risk with a Harrier, or mishandle a Stryker as an experiment, you should be allowed to do that. Units are not essentially rock-paper-scissors, although clearly ammunition types are. League players will of course employ their finest tactics, but the rest of the community should not feel pressured to simply follow the pack. You have all the tools at your disposal to work out exactly how you like to play, and laterally adapt to the tactics employed by your opponent.
If every opponent, or player, is using the same tactic developed by the communities hive-mind, then every game will seem quite drole. That’s a crime when Eugen Systems have given you the tools for such dynamic engagement. Use them. It’s supposed to be fun.
So, onto my impression of what I’ve seen so far.
This is a good example of something I was worried about before the game launched. When EE launched, matches were unpredictable and dynamic. Less units were employed, and more armour was used. Quickly it became apparent that, since infantry comes with armour of sorts, and generally costs around 100 or so points less than armour, it’s more efficient to pump out infantry. Because of this, many people pumped out as much infantry as possible, and simply scattered it around the map, sending men in the meet into the middle. Matches subsequently became a matter of hiding your men in the trees, and sending their transport in as either a scout or a suicide mission. The points for each armoured unit with infantry were so low that the gain for the enemy was negligible, since they would invariably send something in the direction of your own men hiding in the trees, who would recapture the points by destroying that insurgence. How boring.
For the uninitiated, I’m the blue guys on the right. My point score is relatively low, and I am not following the cookie-cutter tactics employed by my other two, very competent companions. A league player would say that I’m playing very badly. Indeed on paper that might seem to be the case, but I flanked the entire match, captured ECHO’s FOV, destroyed his command vehicle, and frightened them into a surrender. I didn’t win us the game, but with the overt sense of threat from the left flank, and my surprise insurgency from the right, the game was ours.
My point is that efficiency isn’t fun. Playing for the win at any cost isn’t fun. Unless you’re league players fighting against each other, I’ve found that you’ll probably be facing the same unimaginative insurgence of infantry units almost every time. Because of the amount of cheap AA infantry on the map, planes are – so far – hardly used.
At this stage in the beta, I’m worried that Eugen Systems haven’t made enough of an effort to stir the pot. I’m perfectly aware that the community are quite happy with the way that they’re playing, and how the game is made, but it’s such a shame to waste potentially endless tactical possibilities on the same dynamic every match. It’s almost a sandbox type environment, and at the moment it seems most popular to simply hide a scout around the enemy base, meet at the middle with infantry, dot a few AA over the place, and then just wait it out. I’m not entirely convinced it’s as intelligent as it is effective. It’s brute force, but there’s no real strategy.
It reminds me a little of how in Company of Heroes, the standard tactic for multiplayer matches was to artillery with the US, and tank rush with the Germans. Those two options were generally the only two methods of securing a win against players who employed that method. If the Germans tank rused, you had to defend and artillery, and if the Americans decided to sit and artillery, you had to rush them with tanks. Of course, gamers didn’t have to do that, but it was up to the imagination and creativity of the opponent. This is a much larger, and more open environment – the possibilities are endless. It’s war porn, and I genuinely feel as though the fun of the Wargame series should come at least in part from creative play, regardless of whether you win or lose.
Many of you will scoff — of course you should do whatever you can to win! — well, winning is great, but doing so of your own accord, with your own tactics, is much more rewarding. I may not play as you’d like, but I have won the games you have watched. What does that say? “Well, you wouldn’t’ win against a league player!” Of course I wouldn’t, but what does it matter? Let’s take it down a notch and fully explore the potential of AirLand Battle in the beta, and stop being concerned with mathematical efficiency.
There is a contradiction in some of the criticism I received; the idea that I left out some of the features. Well, you can’t expect me to play how you want me to play, and still show you all the features. In order to show you everything, I have to play the game laterally, and allow mistakes to be made. It’s silly to say “there were no logical tactics used,” and add “you missed out a lot of features of game-play” in the same sentence. “Logical tactics” are logical insofar as they are meta-efficient within the game mechanics themselves. They’re not logical tactics so much as the use of certain strategies is logical to secure a victory*. I’m trying to have fun; winning is a bonus. That’s been going well for me so far.
(*It’s illogical to put a crap ton of cheap infantry in a bush and then attack face on against an equal force for a long period of time where your victories are negated by your losses, although that seems to be the primary tactic employed. It might work, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it logical. It all depends on the criteria for a satisfactory victory you set yourself. For instance, I’m only happy if I am victorious through my own experiments and methods of winning. I don’t want to adhere to set ways of doing things, I want to engage my brain. In that vein, it would be illogical for me to employ such a tactic since it would damage the quality of the victory. Winning “at all costs,” to me, is crude!)
What am I talking about? Let’s use an analogy. There are two ways to solve a Rubik’s Cube: you can either work it out in your head, or learn one of the many algorithms; “a list of well-defined instructions for performing a task from a given initial state.” There’s a propensity to suggest that ‘logic’ implies intelligence, but in actuality the algorithmic method is only reiteration. Learning how to win shouldn’t be the focus – figuring it out is the fun part.
Whether you like it or not, AirLand Battle is aesthetically authentic, dynamic, and enjoyable. It’s an accessible game, and everyone should get their hands on it. Throughout my coverage, I want to promote the game to RTS players from all walks of life – none of my work is a tutorial, and none of it is about how to win. The truth of the matter is that most ‘pug’ style matches are against people who aren’t strategic geniuses, there is room for some lateral game play… room to… have fun.
I assure you, I know how I am expected to play, but if I am helping to secure victories, you shouldn’t worry too much about it! Let’s have some fun!
PCGMedia are covering the game laterally until the release of the deck system
We’re concerned over the lack of imagination due to community pressure to do things a set way
We find it interesting that you can still be a “bad” player, and win 90% of your games:
Simply because you pick your own units, and your own strategies — be imaginative!
Planes are hardly used due to pockets of infantry AA
Infantry is overused due to the relatively cheap cost:
Which makes games quite drole and tiresome
Playing with friends, and experimenting, is definitely more fun at this stage
There’s a concern that new players will be put off unnecessarily by pressure to work a certain way
The default decks are actually a good thing for the game at the moment, since they force people out of their comfort zone:
Which is a step towards testing the potential dynamic of the game
The term “logic” is apparently synonymous with “my way of doing things”
However, you can still experiment, have fun, and still win:
The community frown upon that, in our experience
Expected future coverage
2v2 recorded match
10v10 recorded match
Once the deck system is unlocked, a full written preview piece on the beta and state of the game